Ascension Government payroll down 7.5% under Cointment with 12% force reduction

Ascension President Clint Cointment

A few months ago Ascension’s Chief Administrative Officer John Diez informed the Council of efforts to streamline Parish Government operations, describing an unwieldy personnel roster and payroll left to President Clint Cointment by his predecessor.  Since assuming office on January 6 Cointment has overseen a steady reduction in personnel, and a corresponding reduction in taxpayer funded payroll.  At the end of Kenny Matassa’s only term in office there were 542 employees and a bloated, $22,860,000 payroll, decreasing to 474 (12.6% reduction) and $21,143,000 (7.5%) as of December 9, 2020.

That is according to records produced in response to a recent public records request.  The numbers take into account only employees working directly for Ascension Parish Government (APG), excluding others (like firefighters) whose pay is processed and paid through APG payroll.

The administration attributes the savings to some terminations, but more natural attrition as retiring employees have not been replaced.  The goal is to lop another $3 million before the end of Cointment’s first term which concludes at the end of 2023.

The force reduction has been steady, 22 fewer employees on the roster by mid-February in keeping with any change of presidential administration; followed by another 26 culled by mid-May.  Certain of Cointment’s early employment decisions ruffled more than a few Parish Council feathers though a cooperative working relationship seems to have taken root with an exception or two.

Since mid-2020 natural attrition without replacement saw another ten-employee reduction by August, a dozen more as of the most recently produced Personnel Roster last week.

Matassa adds 140 employees, $5.3 Million to Ascension’s payroll (and counting)

There was an awful lot of deadwood on Matassa’s bloated payroll.  18 Part-Time employees who never bothered to show up for work according to current administration sources, quit rather than having to clock-in for a shift.

“We need to decide if we’re going to be a job service; or we’re going to provide services to the public,” explained CAO Diez in October.

Unsurprisingly, the worthy objective received some council pushback. At the November 17 meeting it was District 1 (Donaldsonville) Councilman Alvin “Coach” Thomas who did the pushing, lamenting recent terminations and criticizing the administration for failing to give across-the-board, Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) raises.  Diez responded that raises, between 1-1.8% would be forthcoming.

Over the last ten years APG has given a cumulative COLA raise of 33% (3.3% per year on average), far exceeding those provided employees of Ascension Parish Schools and the the Sheriff’s Office which have ponied up an average 1% raise over the same time frame. There have been years when the COLA pay hike reached 5%.  For an apples to apples comparison, St. Charles Parish Government followed the more frugal path, giving its employees the 1% yearly bump.

The CAO cited COVID-19 demands, along with necessary overtime payments to prepare for a handful of named storm emergencies, to justify the administration’s frugality.  The costs incurred to deal with those unplanned events ate into the budget allocation from which COLA raises would have been funded.

More belt-tightening could be in the offing.

In October the Council was informed that Cointment intends to instill merit raises as opposed to COLA raises every year.  It drew praise from Chairwoman Teri Casso who recalled attempts to adopt “performance based raises…” lamenting, “we couldn’t get there because of weaknesses in a lot of areas.”

SSA Consultants was hired to conduct an Efficiency/Accountability Study, ongoing for several months now.  Its tasks include creation of metrics for APG to generate performance evaluations, something that has not happened since 2015 (Matassa took office in January of 2016).  Those metrics, once implemented, will determine who has earned those merit raises, or so the theory goes.

Speaking of “weaknesses in a lot of areas,” during Matassa’s reign SSA produced an Efficiency/Effectiveness Study, none of which was implemented save a Title and Pay Plan.  It was enacted by the council, effective August 2018, then roundly ignored by Matassa.

Under his leadership nearly 10% of all employees were paid more than allowed for their job titles pursuant to the Pay Plan.

10% of Ascension employees paid more than parish law allows (and there’s more of them)

The vast majority of those employees remains on the current payroll, at their 2019 salaries.  None of Cointment’s top hires “earns” in excess of the allowable pay for his/her job title, a stark contrast to his predecessor’s administration.